Monday, April 26, 2010

The day I almost met Steve Jobs

I was just reminded of this story when one of the engineers in our company announced he was leaving to go to California to work for Apple Computer. Steve Jobs is, as you may know, the chief executive officer of Apple. He was one of the founders of Apple but left the company in 1985. He started a new company called NeXT Computer (yes, spelled with three capital letters) that had a lot of advanced hardware and software features that were appealing to the guys who ran our company and they decided that, besides being developers for Apple Macintosh computers and computers that run Microsoft operating systems, we would become NeXT developers, too. To get the special deals available to NeXT Developers, we would have to send someone to a week of intensive classes to learn how development was done on this innovative platform. I was picked to go. I was very happy to go because of all the new things I would be learning.

One of the first official things I did when I got there was to go to dinner with some of the other developers and the NeXT staff that would be teaching us. Also, I was surprised to find out, Steve Jobs himself would be there. He was going to give a talk after we ate and before the formal introductory lesson was given and our course materials were handed out. We were just finishing our meal and Steve walked in. He started walking around and greeting the NeXT people and introducing himself to the developers. He seemed happy to meet each of the developers and was asking what they planned to do with their NeXT machines. As he worked his way around the tables, I rehearsed what I'd say to him and what I'd ask him. I didn't want to gush and make a fool of myself but I wanted him to know what an honor it was to meet him. I also wanted to let him know what we'd be doing with his machines. From what I could tell from hearing what the other developers were saying, we would have a unique application for the NeXT computer.

Finally, he got to our table (why did I always have to sit in the back?). He seemed genuinely interested in everyone he talked with. I made sure to finish my meal early enough to ensure I was not chewing when he came to talk with me. Then he got to the guy next to me and they started talking. Steve had spent no more than two or three minutes talking with the other developers and I prepared to talk with him soon. But the guy next to me was one of these blowhards who seem to think they have all the best ideas in the world and whatever they are working on is the most amazing stuff anyone has ever done. Steve was very polite and attentive. He answered all the guy's questions. Meanwhile I'm thinking, "OK, enough. Let the poor guy go. I only want a minute." On and on the guy went. I'm sweating with the strain of holding myself back from shouting at the loud-mouth. Finally, the guy stops talking and Steve heads around to me. I'm just putting out my hand to shake the hand of Steve Jobs and one of his staff comes up and says, "It's time for your talk, Steve." I could have cried. I toyed with the idea of jumping out of me seat and hip checking the loud-mouthed guy next to me as I ran to introduce myself to Steve but it all happened too fast.

Steve Jobs gave an interesting and enthusiastic talk. I had mild hopes that he would continue meeting us after his talk but he had to go right after the talk. That was it. I almost met one of the most famous technical entrepreneurs in the world. But I didn't. But I will tell you - I never sit in the back of the room anymore.

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